Scientists have discovered several strange objects close to the supermassive black hole at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy.
The mysterious structures, which are positioned behind a shroud of galactic dust, are somehow able to resist the powerful gravitational pull of their monstrous neighbor.
Along with two former celestial objects spotted over a decade ago, the discovery of G3, G4 and G5 — as they’ve been labeled — brings the tally of black hole visitors to five.
Astronomers revealed that the group of objects look like gas clouds but behave like stars, leaving the scientists baffled.
They’re hanging around Sagittarius A* (pronounced Sagittarius A-star), the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way’s heart, which can shred gas clouds apart (ruling that theory out).
All of these G-objects are bright, red, dusty structures that emit hydrogen and have a relatively low surface temperature.
“These compact dusty stellar objects move extremely fast and close to our galaxy’s supermassive black hole. It is fascinating to watch them move from year to year,” said astronomer Anna Ciurlo, who led the team that made the discovery.
“How did they get there? And what will they become? They must have an interesting story to tell.”
The five Gs’ origins may be the result of a collision between two stars orbiting each other, say the scientists.
With the black hole in their vicinity altering the gravity of its surrounding space, galactic pileups like this are made all the more possible.
Over a long period of time, this gravitational force alters the orbits of binary stars — which are systems of two stars in which one revolves around another — until the duo crash into each other.
The impact of this collision emits a huge amount of energy, causing the stars to puff up to a much larger size and appear as gas clouds.
The researchers made their discovery using 12 years of measurements of the black hole’s gas dynamics taken from the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
They now plan to follow the size and shape of the G-objects’ orbits to gain insights into how they formed.
But this could take at least another 20 years just for G3, and even longer for G4 and G5.
“Understanding G-objects can teach us a lot about the galactic center’s fascinating and still-mysterious environment. There are so many things going on that every localized process can help explain how this extreme, exotic environment works,” said Ciurlo.
The latest unpublished findings were announced this week at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Denver, Colorado.
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